Journalists are rarely interesting enough to be the centre of a film. There’s a reason we tell other people’s stories — shining a light on incredible, singular human beings doing things the world previously thought impossible. But as with Spotlight or All The President’s Men, sometimes the journalists become the story. Such as five years ago, when New York Times journalists Jodi Kantor and Megan Twohey broke the story of Harvey Weinstein’s abuse and misconduct in Hollywood.
It’s for this reason that She Said is something of an anomaly. It’s not a standard film about journalists, nor another run-of-the-mill condemnation of Hollywood. It’s both, and it’s more — a meta-commentary on the injustices that continue to permeate journalism and filmmaking, and a galvanising portrait of tired women finding the strength to keep going. There’s no heroic sentimentality, nor epic stakes being raised: the cold, hard reality of what happened is enough.
She Said deftly avoids the trappings of potential performative feminism — the kind of female-led films that make for neat marketing about girlboss culture or the reductive pigeonholing of all interesting women into “strong female characters”. Kantor and Twohey are two exceptional journalists, but they’re also both burnt-out mothers: Carey Mulligan beautifully portrays Twohey’s exhaustion and unexpected postnatal depression as a new mother, only a few weeks before she joined Kantor on the Weinstein investigation. And it’s a joy to see Zoe Kazan take command as a lead actor again (her last major lead role was in The Big Sick, released around the same time as the Weinstein story broke). Her role as forever-juggling Jewish mother-of-two Kantor sees her constantly trying to prove herself; nobody, it seems, manages to see past her meek demeanor.
Mulligan and Kazan ground this film with immense power.
Much of the film’s strength comes from its care towards young female characters — in how the script protects those worried about speaking out, while finding the right language for unspeakable acts. How do you protect yourself without ruining your own life? Director Maria Schrader already showed her skill at deftly framing women trapped by circumstance in miniseries Unorthodox, about a Jewish woman leaving her religious community, and here she spotlights the women of the film industry terrified of telling the truth with sensitivity and subtlety.
There are brief flashes of something resembling a Hollywood biopic, especially in the score by Nicholas Britell, which evokes his sombre work on Succession rather than the delicate emotion infused into his scores for Barry Jenkins. But Mulligan and Kazan ground this film with immense power. There’s no fake sass or manipulative drama, only the truth: sober, righteous investigation, bringing justice to women who have suffered for too long.